Archive for the ‘new feature’ Category

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

12 fonti italiane! (12 Italian sources!)

I have been cataloging my Italian books manually for months, but for the joy of all Italian readers, this is finally over! We’ve just added 12 new Italian sources!

It’s really no fun at all to enter book data field by field for hundreds of books, so I am sure all Italian Thingamabrarians will love the new sources! I’m personally really looking forward to cataloging books by scanning the ISBNs with my lovely CueCat!

Anyway, this is a good news for all users: among the 12 new sources there’s the Vatican Library, which owns books in a number of languages, and the European University Institute Library in Florence, with a lot of books on social sciences and European studies in English.

Now, I know this is an English speaking blog, but I’m sure (well, I hope!) Tim and Abby wouldn’t mind some Italian … so, if you wanna read further and you’re not Italian, well, Babelfish is just one click away!

Da quando poco più di un anno fa LibraryThing è stato tradotto in italiano (e in più di 20 altre lingue) dagli utenti di LibraryThing (la pagina traduzioni è qui, se vuoi dare il tuo contributo!), il numero di utenti italiani è cresciuto insieme alle lamentele per la mancanza di una fonte di catalogazione ;-)

Biblioteche e non solo. Finalmente siamo in grado di aggiungere non una, ma ben 12 nuove fonti di catalogazione! Oltre a 11 biblioteche* abbiamo aggiunto anche una libreria online di Roma, DEAstore, perfetta per libri di recente pubblicazione. Non offre gli stessi dati delle biblioteche, ma ha delle copertine fantastiche!

Gruppi.
LibraryThing in inglese (e in alcune altre lingue) ha centinaia di gruppi di discussione molto attivi. I gruppi italiani non sono molto vivaci**, ma forse con qualche utente un più, possiamo rianimarli. Già, ma dove li troviamo altri utenti italiani? Ecco un piccolo incentivo!

Invita i tuoi amici e ricevi un account gratuito per te e per un tuo amico! Dal proprio profilo è possibile invitare i propri amici su LibraryThing. Non perdere tempo, regaliamo un account annuale per te e per un amico ai primi 15 che invitano un amico che cataloga almeno 15 libri!***
Non sei riuscito a convincere nessuno?! Prova a mostrare la visita guidata a LibraryThing.

Ma da quando Tim ha imparato l’italiano?! Beh, Tim non ha imparato l’italiano ;-) Da alcuni mesi LibraryThing ha un italiano nel suo team. Domande, dubbi, bugs? Scrivetemi! Nel frattempo, buona catalogazione a tutti!


* A parte il catalogo delle biblioteche Liguri, le altre nuove fonti sono biblioteche universitarie o di centri di ricerca. Se qualcuno conosce biblioteche italiane che supportano il formato Z39.50, possiamo cercare di aggiungerle. Scrivetemi!
** Adesso che abbiamo delle fonti di catalogazione, di cosa parleremo nei gruppi?!
*** Mandate il nome del vostro account e dell’account del vostro amico a giovannilibrarything.com

Photo credit: “Italian flag flying on top of Monte Sighignola photo by Flikr user ovuigner, used under a CC-Attribution license.

Labels: italy, new feature, new libraries

Monday, December 10th, 2007

SantaThing: Secret Santas for LibraryThing!

UPDATE: We just (9pm) hit 100 Secret Santas, and a lot of interesting comments on them. Some users are confused about the money. The situation is this. When you sign up, you pay $25. When you get someone you pick out up to $20 worth of books, and tell us what they are—by ISBN presumably. We buy the gifts and pay the shipping. I suspect we’ll make or lose about $1 per Santa. This is hardly about the money.

It had to happen and here it is: SantaThing!

SantaThing is Secret Santa for LibraryThing members.

The idea is simple. Pay $25. You play Santa to a random LibraryThing member, and find them up $20 worth of books, based on their library or a short description. Someone else does the same to you. LibraryThing orders the books and pays the shipping, so no addresses are exchanged and no members are stalked!

Now, this isn’t just for you. You can also go in for someone you know—a relative or a friend. Describe their library a bit and someone will find them the perfect present. And you can become a Santa as many times as you like. So, for example, I entered myself and my wife. Heck, I might outsource all my Christmas buying to the LibraryThing community! :)

Lastly, even if you don’t want to be a Santa, you can help by suggesting books for others.

Crucial dates. This is going to end very soon.

  • Thursday, 12 Noon Eastern. Santa-signup ends. Secret Santas are picked.
  • Friday, 10pm Eastern. Submit gifts to LibraryThing. LibraryThing buys everything. According to Amazon, if it’s ordered before Tuesday it will make it by December 24.

Back story. I wanted to do this last year, but couldn’t get it out in time. This year I aimed low. You’ll notice it’s very basic. (You can make suggestions, but you can’t delete past suggestions, use touchstones, etc.) But, what the heck? It’s going to be gone in a week—it’s good enough!

Addendum: I haven’t even blogged it yet, and one user has already signed up. The “tastes” section was filled out as follows:

“Please refrain from choosing anything involving wizards, elves, dragons, swords, etc… or anything Oprah demands be read.”

Labels: new feature, santathing, secret santa

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Better at what we do best

We’ve introduced a series of improvements to LibraryThing’s core strength—high-quality book cataloging.

Detail pages and edit pages. We’re replaced the previous detail and edit pages with more attractive and functional ones. That’s an edit page over on the right. For a detail page, check out my copy of my the obscure-but-wonderful*, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army.

Employing a simple tabbed interface, the new detail pages cover both the “work” level and the individual book level. The latter has been sorely lacking.

Multiple authors, roles. When it comes to cataloging our weakest point was always our handling of “secondary” authors—illustrators, translators, editors and the like. Doing them better has been one of the most insistent requests.

We’ve got a real system now. Books added today come with secondary authors and author roles built in. We’ve set down a small number of preset “roles,” such as Editor, Translator, Photographer and so forth—based on Amazon’s preset roles—but all roles are editable. In time, these roles will be spread throughout the system, so that the author page for someone like Steven King will include not only his own works, but collections he appears in. Translators in particular will finally get their due.

For now, enhanced author and role information is available only for newly-added books. As the system is firmed-up we will begin allowing members to “upgrade” existing records, with multiple authors as well as other cataloging enhancements.

New fields. So far, we’re releasing only two new fields. The first is for the number of copies, in case, like I, you have 500 copies of your wife’s novel, resisting relocation in the foyer. The second is the much-anticipated “private comments” field. Go ahead, pour your hearts out. The field is only viewable when you are signed in.

We’re starting with two, but we have many more waiting in the wings, including fields for edition, publisher, place of publication, binding, physical size and weight, list price—even OCLC number and ISSN. Casey and I spent a lot of time figuring out what more we can squeeze from library data, and from Amazon too. (Did you know, for example, that all library data records declare whether or not they are a Festschrift, but there is no standard way of indicating a CD?)

New Libraries. We’ve been unveiling libraries slowly. By New Years, however, we will have almost 700 libraries. Including among these will be many outside of English-speaking countries, and including books in non-Latin scripts, such as Arabic, Korean and Armenian. Library systems are notoriously twitchy with non-Latin data, and between LT employees we cover nothing beyond Greek. If you’re interested in helping us test these systems, we’d love to hear it.

New Languages. LibraryThing is already available in more than a dozen languages. We’re about to release sixteen more. They are:

Afrikaans, Arabic, Armenian, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Farsi, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Macedonian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Tagalog, Urdu

Some of our existing translations have done well—German, Dutch, Welsh—while others—Basque, Latvian—have languished. I think I see now that the key ingredient is a small cadre of zealots willing to do enough initial work that subsequent, interested but less-daring helpers can carry thing the rest of the way. If you’re interested in helping out on one of these languages, let us know. We’ll give you a special key in.

MARCThing. Underneath many of our improvements is an exciting new package we’re calling MARCThing. Developed by our own Casey Durfee, MARCThing is a complete, self-contained and largely idiot-proof way to access and parse library data. We’re going to making it available for non-commercial use and extension. We expect lots of interesting things to come of it.

I’ve asked Casey to write up a post on MARCThing over on the Thingology blog. It’ll be there in a sec. Check it out.

Talk about it. Yesterday was Götterdämmerung for everything new. So much changed so completely that a lot ended up broken. For that we apologize. Chris and I are very grateful for the flood of bug reports, suggestions, criticisms and encouragement. That thread is threatening to hit 200 posts, so I’m starting a new thread for lingering issues (there are a few) and other topics related to this blog post. Of course, you can also comment on this post. Blog posts are a lousy place for bugs, but they’re a great place for more detailed questions, disagreements and so forth.

Future steps. In the next week we’ll be unveiling the other new fields, and building a “data-enhancement” option for older records. After that, the path is clear for collections. (But don’t shoot me if I slip a Secret-Santa feature in this week.)

Final thoughts. We’ve undertaken to improve this aspect of the site despite some contrary advice—that most people don’t care about getting the data right, and that we need to focus on the purely social parts of the site. After all, we’re already the best at this side, so why spend time and money to get better?

Although, with cataloging improved, we intend to turn our attention to better UI—such as collections—and to improved social features, we feel that LibraryThing isn’t MySpace—that content and conversation are inextricably linked. As Tim O’Reilly recently put it in an interview, LibraryThing is one of a number of sites that provide different, interesting takes on the “social graph.” You don’t get to interesting relationships around books without making the book-side as powerful and flexible as can be.


*And, on LibraryThing, insanely over-promoted!

Labels: cataloging, new feature, new libraries, privacy

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Which of your authors are on LibraryThing?

I’d added a feature to show you which of your authors—the authors of the books in your library—are also LibraryThing members. We call them LibraryThing Authors.

The impetus was an unfortunate event. Two LibraryThing Authors went hog-wild “friending” members. Some members were annoyed, and I stepped into create an upper limit of requests and comments per day (it’s 70). But it did raise the fact that there was no adequate way for LibraryThing authors to connect with their readers.

LibraryThing Authors? If you don’t know, LibraryThing Authors are authors who are members of LibraryThing and have put some or all of their personal books onto the site.

Wouldn’t it be great to see what your favorite authors were reading? Well, that’s the idea, and, so far, it’s been quite a draw. We have 667 authors so far. We hope this makes it even more attractive for all concerned.

Labels: authors, LT author, new feature

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

28 Australian libraries / The Book Show

UPDATED UPDATE: ABC’s The Book Show aired the interview. It was fun to do. And today (Dec. 5 over there) we got a—admittedly syndicated—mention in Australia’s national newspaper The Australian. Go Australia!


We’ve jumped from 2 to 28 Australian libraries. This should make it a lot easier for Australians to add books to LibraryThing.

In related news, I’m appearing on Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Book Show, at 10am today (Nov. 22 in Australia), to talk about LibraryThing. The show is repeated at midnight. You can listen in from their shows page or with their podcast.

The Book Show. The Book Show is a DAILY show! I listened to a half-dozen of them to prepare. I enjoyed the one on the PR industry, with Bob Burton (Nov. 19), the one on marginialia (Oct. 19). They did LT Early Reviewer‘s author Amy Bloom on October 9.

Libraries. The libraries include state libraries from Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales and universities like Canberra, Tasmania, Sydney, Flinder’s University and Charles Darwin University. There are also some special collections, like the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Australian Graduate School of Management. And of course we still have the National Library of Australia and the Australian National University.

The new Australian libraries raises our total to 97. Over the coming weeks it’s going to go much higher. But we figured it would be fun to unleash them in groups. Also, the new libraries introduce a host of new challenges, including new standards, like UNIMARC, and non-Latin character sets, and we wanted to make sure we got everything right.

Casey will go into much greater detail about the new libraries soon. But you should also see a substantial increase in cataloging quality, particularly with character sets. At first, this will just be for newly-added books, but we’ll make an effort to improve older records too. We also have a new “author authors” and “roles” system. We were going to unveil it today, but a couple of minor bugs kept us from it. We’ll get that out tomorrow.

Wish me luck on the radio. From listening to old ones, I determined that the show is very much up my alley, but very relaxed. I’m not. Maybe I should have a whiskey or two before I go on.


The photo above come from the one to the left, this photo, by Johan Larson. It was the first commercially-usable and remixable Flickr result for “Australian flag.”

Unfortunately, LibraryThing’s Australian—Tasmanian!—systems guy, John Dalton (Felius), was unavailable for under-flag exuberance. The individual in question is almost certainly not excited about LibraryThing’s new libraries. But, if he has any interest, how about a free account?

Labels: australia, new feature, new libraries

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Common Knowledge explodes

It’s been 48 hours since we introduced Common Knowledge, our “social cataloging” initiative and it’s been a HUGE success.*

Six-hundred and fifty members have contributed an edit, making 17,437 edits total (adding multiple characters, for example, counted as a single edit). Check out the changelog and watch it happen.

It’s our job to support what you’re doing. Apart from obsessively adding facts ourselves–Chris and I both made the top 20 contributors!–Chris has been working on UI improvements, and we’ve both been very active discussing it, bugs, new fields, the gender issue and other topics. There’s a lot to do.

More statistics. The top contributor was shortride with an astonishing 1,383 edits. English got the lion share of edits, with second-place German coming in at 441 edits. (We’re still working on how to show information from other languages.)

Top contributors Top fields
Shortride 1383 Awards and honors 4412
MikeBriggs 614 Character name 3398
fleela 458 Gender 2297
realSandy 383 Important places 2255
PhoenixTerran 350 Places of residence 1587
tardis 336 Birthdate 1197
sabreuse 311 Education 869
VictoriaPL 301 Date of death 552
tripleblessings 291 Organizations 430
AnnaClaire 277 Description 200
Rtrace 275 Disambiguation notice 116
andyl 247 Publisher’s editor 62
rorrison 242 Agent 60
timspalding 238
SqueakyChu 234
conceptDawg 228


*We’re pretty impressed by all the activity, especially considering it hasn’t been as blogged as much as some past features.** But I gave it a good push talking yesterday at the Ohio Library Council. (Come see me talk again today.) And something like this can only grow. APIs will be key.
**Tip of the hat, however, to Superpatron, Joshua M. Neff and Wicked Librarian.

Labels: common knowledge, new feature

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Common Knowledge: Social cataloging arrives

Chris has just released Common Knowledge, the innovative, open-data and insanely addictive “fielded wiki” we’ve been talking about for a month.

Common Knowledge adds fields to every author and work, like:

  • Author: Places of residence, Awards and honors, Agent
  • Work: Important places, Character names, Publisher’s editor, Description

All-told there are fourteen fields. But Common Knowledge is less a set of fields than a structure for adding fields to LibraryThing. Adding more fields is almost trivial, and they can be added to anything existing or planned—from tags and subjects, to bookstores and publishers. They can even be added to other Common Knowledge fields, so that, for example, agents and editors can, in the future, sport photos and contact information.* This can lead to, as Chris puts it, “nearly infinite cross-linking of data.”

Common Knowledge works like a wiki. Any member can add information, and any member can edit or revert edits. All fields are global, not personal. Common Knowledge diverges from a standard wiki insofar as each field works like its own independent wiki page, with a separate edit history.

Some example:

  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I’ve been conservative with characters and places. (See Longitude, worked on by Chris for the opposite approach.) But I wish I had her editor!
  • The history page for “important places” in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, showing improvement over time.
  • David Weinberger. Half-filled. He mentions his agent, but I can’t tree his major at Bucknell and the honors section is empty.
  • Hugo Award Winners. This is going to get very cool.
  • The global history page. Mesmerizing.

Right now we’re basically slapping fields on pages, but this structure is built for reuse. The license is also built for reuse. We’re not asking members to help us create a repository of saleable, private data. Whatever you add to Common Knowledge falls under a Creative Commons Attribution license. So long as you include a short notice (eg., “Powered by the LibraryThing community”), you can do almost anything you want with the data—take it, change it, remix it, give it to others. You can even sell it, if someone will buy it. Regular people, bookstores, libraries–even our competitors–are free to use it. We’ll be adding APIs to get it out there all the more. Go crazy, people.**

Common Knowledge isn’t the answer to everything. Some data, like web links, requires a more structured approach; some, like our “work” titles, works best when it “bubbles up” from user data; and some, like page counts, have yet to be extracted from the MARC and ONIX information we have. But the possibilities are great. Series information? Blurbers? Cover designers? Books about an author? Tag notes? Other classification schemes?*** Bookstore locations? Publicists? Venues? Book fairs? Pets? Pets’ vacination dates?

Anyway, we’ve done our thinking, but this is the ultimate member-input feature. We’re going to have to figure it out together. Fields will need to be added (and removed?). Rules will be debated, formatting discussed. Although the base is solid, the feature set is still skeletal.****

Go ahead and play. Chris, John and I spent the evening playing with it, and we guarantee it’s addictive. Or talk about. Leave a note here. I’ve also changed the WikiThing group into a Common Knowledge and WikiThing group. I’ve started a first-reactions topic and another for bug reports.

Why I’m excited. LibraryThing means a lot of things to a lot of people. Some come for the cataloging, some for the social aspect. A lot come for what happens between those two poles. As I see it, Common Knowledge is the perfect LibraryThing feature. I don’t mean it’s good; I mean it’s in tune with what makes LibraryThing work. It’s social, sure, but it’s based in data. It’s not private cataloging and it’s not MySpace-like “friending.”

LibraryThing is sometimes called a “social cataloging” site. When I used this term at the American Library Association, it became an unintentional laugh line. Social cataloging sounded impossible and funny, like feline water-skiing. This more than anything else got me fired up about doing this. True “social cataloging”; it was an idea that had to be tried!*****

Details, acknowledgements and caveats. Common Knowledge is deeply unstructured. This is going to give some members hives! Names aren’t in first-middle-last format, but free text. You can enter places however you want. We’ve arranged some careful “hint” text, and fields have a terrific “autocomplete” feature, but we’re not validating data and returning hostile error messages. We’re aiming for accessibility and reach, not perfection. This is Wikipedia, not the Library of Congress. It scares us too, but we’re also excited.

Abby, Casey, Chris and I planned this feature during the Week of Code. We worked through the issues together, and Casey, Chris and I all wrote the initial code. When we broke up, the rest of the coding and the interface design all fell to Chris. Although it was a team effort, this is really his feature. I’m very pleased with what he did with it.

We decided to work on this (and on our standard wiki, WikiThing, which grew out of it) because it was an ideal project for the entire group to tackle. This jumped it past collections. I still think this was a good idea, but there has certainly been some grumbling. We heard you. Collections is next on our list, with nothing new in between.


*So far we have only three data types—radio buttons (gender), long fields (book descriptions and author disambiguations) and short fields (everything else).
**Competitors who use it might want to stop asserting copyright over everything posted to their site. This was legally bogus already, but it certainly would conflict with a Creative Commons license… Incidentally, we haven’t decided whether to go with CC-Attribution Share-and-Share-Alike or straight CC-Attribution (discussion here), but it’s going to be one or the other.
***This particular one may happen very soon.
****And yes, we can discuss the whole radio-buttons-for-gender topic. See here, here. I’m of the opinion that two genders plus maybe “unknown” and “n/a” (for Nyarlathotep?) are the best you can get without consensus-splitting disagreement. You’ll note we aren’t including other potentially-contentious fields, like sexual orientation or religion.
*****In conception, Common Knowledge most closely resembles the Open Library Project, the Internet Archive‘s incipent effort to “wikify” the library catalog. Open Library is also a “fielded wiki,” based on Aaron Schwartz’s superior Infogami platform. You’ll notice that we’ve mostly steered clear of the “traditional” cataloging fields that Open Library is starting from. We do cataloging differently, and we don’t want to duplicate effort. Anyway, we’re hoping they and others mash up the two data sets, and others.

Labels: common knowledge, creative commons, fielded wiki, new feature, open library, wiki

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

“Your library” tab now remembers

I made a small change, but a basic one. It may cause some confusion, so I figured I’d do a quick blog post about it.

The “Your library” tab now “remembers” where you were in your library, rather than resetting things. This recreates the dead (and much-mourned) “back to catalog” button, found on work pages until they were redone. So, if you are on the fifth page of your catalog, go to an author and from there to a tag, a help page, the wiki, your email, a YouTube video of laughing babies and then back to LibraryThing and the “your library” tab, you’ll find it where you left off.

Because it’s basic, there may be some hiccups. Report problems on Talk, here.

Labels: new feature, work pages

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Google Book Search … on LibraryThing

Introducing something new we’re calling “Google Book Search Search.”

Google Book Search Search is a bookmarklet that searches Google Book Search for the titles in your LibraryThing library. It works not unlike the famous SETI@Home project. You set it up and searches Google Book Search slowly in the background.* You can watch, do something in another window or go out for coffee.

When it’s done you can link to and search all the books in your library that Google has scanned. You’ll find a “search this book” link on work pages, and a Google Book Search field to add to the list view in your catalog.

But this isn’t just a selfish thing. There’s a lot of searching to do, and you can help. If you choose, you can pitch in and help with others’ books. All of the data gathered is free and available to everyone. A lot of people want a reliable index of what Google has, not least libraries.

What do I do?

Google Book Search Search is a “bookmarklet.” You save it to your “favorites” or “bookmarks.” Then you got to Google Book Search and you click it. You can see what pops up on the right.*** Press start and it will start collecting information.

Here it is: Google Book Search Search

We’ve tested it on FF and Safari on the Mac, and FF and IE7 and IE5.5 on the PC. We haven’t tested it on PC IE6 yet. I have no idea about Opera.

Why a bookmarklet?

We’ve wanted to do this for a long time. But to link to a book on Google reliably you need its Google ID. For some reason Google doesn’t publish these, making it impossible to tell what they have and what they don’t, and impossible for sites like LibraryThing to send them the traffic they want. Secretive and self-defeating? Seems like it to me.

Efforts have been made to collect Google IDs before. The well-known Lib 2.0 blogger John Blyberg tried, as have others. We tried too. The trick is that Google Book Search—like the rest of Google—has a system in place to stop machine queries.**

Making a bookmarklet distributes the work. And because it takes place within a browser, it tends not to trigger machine-collection warnings.

Ultimately, however, Google can put a stop to this. The bookmarklet has a signature. And Google can send us a note, and we’ll disable the bookmarklets. Just as Google respects the robots.txt file, we’ll respect such a request.

Why not use “My Library”?

Last week Google introduced an interesting “My Library” feature, allowing people with Google accounts to list some of their books. A few tech bloggers saw an attack on LibraryThing.

LibraryThing members were quick to dismiss it. It wasn’t so much the lack of any social features, or of cataloging features as basic as sorting your books. It wasn’t even the privacy issues, although these gave many pause. It was the coverage.

Google just doesn’t have the sort of books that regular people have. Most of their books come from a handful of academic libraries, and academic libraries don’t have the same editions regular people have. Then there are the books publishers have explicitly removed from Google Book Search. Success rates of below 50% were common. Of these a high percentage are only “limited preview” or “no preview.”

The Google-kills-LibraryThing meme has another dimension. We WANT people to use Google Book Search. It’s a great tool. Being able to search your own books is useful, and LibraryThing members should be able to do it. Call us naive, but we aren’t going to be able to “pretend Google isn’t there.” And we aren’t convinced that Google is going to create the sort of robust cataloging and social networking features that LibraryThing has.

Our bookmarklet works by transcending ISBNs, using what LibraryThing knows about titles, authors and dates to fetch other editions of a work. In limited tests I’ve found it picks up around 90% of LibraryThing titles.

Information wants to be free

Our commitment to open data is long-standing. We’ve railed against OCLC for its desire to lock up book metadata.

But we’re not railing here. We think it’s perfectly fine for Google to control access to the scans it’s made. All we want to do is link to them, to send them traffic. It’s not clear to us that Google is trying to control access to its ID numbers.

You can see and edit the data here. Full XML downloads of the data are also available there.


*Come to think of it, it works like Google.
**The system is overzealous. It often refuses to show me Google Blog Search pages in Firefox because I look at LibraryThing’s blog coverage too much.
***It’s quite amazing what a bookmarklet can do. We could have never done it if Altay hadn’t shown us the way in this sort of Javascript. The script itself is, however, pretty amateurish–a notice attempt at what Altay did expertly.

As we put on the bookmarklet: “Google and Google Book Search are registered trademarks of Google. LibraryThing is not affiliated in any way with Google or the many libraries that have so generously provided Google with their books and bibliographic metadata, although we share a love of books, a desire to make information as freely available as possible, and similar opinions about evil.”

Labels: features, google, google book search, new feature

Monday, September 10th, 2007

WikiThing: A wiki for LibraryThing

We’ve had the whole team up in Portland, ME, getting to know each other, brainstorming, planning and working on projects. We chose two projects to work on all together. We wanted something that could engage the talents of the whole team.

The first release is WikiThing*, a full-featured wiki for LibraryThing. A wiki is, of course, “a collaborative website which can be directly edited by anyone.” You can use them for lots of things. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. DiscourseDB tracks published opinion pieces. So what’s WikiThing for?

We’re not sure! But we’re kicking it off with:

  • FAQ. We’ve put our static Frequently Asked Questions pages up on the wiki, where everyone (including us) can edit them. If it works out, we’ll get rid of the static pages, or reduce them to a few questions, and link to WikiThing.
  • Help. We’ve got a few Help pages that aren’t FAQ pages.
  • Bug tracking. This was a tough one. We do not want to move all bug conversations to the wiki. Bug tracking can seem like a simple record, but it is generally a conversation, with questions and answers back and forth. Feature requests are even more so. At the same time, a simple list of bugs, with links to Talk posts, could be a big help for everyone.

What do you want to do with it? Leave a note here or on the Talk: New Features post about ThingWiki.

How do I do it? Editing is super easy. Just go to a wiki page and click the “edit” link at the top, or one of the “edit” links by a section.

WikiThing is based on the MediaWiki engine, the same software that runs Wikipedia. So, if you know how to edit Wikipedia, you know how to edit WikiThing. If you don’t, it’s easy to learn. Mostly you just type. If you need to do something fancy, like insert a link, we have a Wiki help. If you screw up, don’t worry. Someone else will come along and fix it.

What about a “content” wiki? We thought long and hard about having a “content wiki.” A content wiki would have wiki pages for all works, authors and so forth. It would cover often-requested fields, like the year of original publication for a work and series information, and hitherto unrequested ones, like the name of the acquiring/literary editor. Members would be able to edit them and the edits would get picked up and put on work and author pages.

After a lot of thought and experimentation we decided that MediaWiki wasn’t the right tool for the job**. We needed a true “fielded wiki.” We looked at options like Aaron Swartz‘s Python-based Infogami, which also runs Open Library.****

In the end, we decided to do it ourself, and it turned out easier than we thought.

We’ve got one more day together, and plan to make the most of it. Whether we can finish it up today or now, we should get it out this week.


*I was overuled on the name. I wanted ThingWiki, in keeping with ThingISBN, ThingTitle and so forth. Casey and Chris** were against it.
**The individual formerly known as “Christopher” (ConceptDawg) shall henceforth be known as “Chris.” Although friends call him Chris, we were calling him Christopher because we also had a Chris (Chris Gann), but Chris Gann is long gone, and Chris—the Christopher Chris—wants his name back! Who’s on first?
***We also decided that tools like Semantic MediaWiki and WikiForms weren’t there yet.
****Since Infogami runs ThingDB—yes, he used the name first—we were thinking of calling our product ThingGami!

Labels: fielded wiki, infogmi, new feature, open library, wiki, wikithing